Keenan’s unbirthday

Just like when i was a kid, my friends are getting older.  Everyday.

And when they have birthdays, i ignore them, mostly.  Except with some regularity Facebook reminds me that i should be taking this day seriously.  So i write a quasi snarky love letter to these people.  Here is a recent one to Keenan

Sn internationalist and networker

An internationalist and networker

Forget birthdays. Instead i meditate on the long productive arch of your life. i know no one else who can build buildings with only chocolate chip cookies (okay, they were really good and fresh baked and all). Someone who sees that the joy of living in community is integrally tied with your ability to clean up messes you had nothing to do with making. i see a man who designed a home school curriculum which if employed nationally would not only end all wars and poverty but would result in fantastic bizarre playground construction from coast to coast. A man who successfully fights entropy and keeps old mills from falling to the river with some combination of cheerful intent, crafty asking for help and endless fortitude. You are a community hero and we are lucky to have you.

Part of a long line of silly people

Part of a long line of silly people

He is the son of a CIA turncoat who would come to Twin Oaks for a visitor period perhaps 30 years ago now and never left (tho he travels extensively).

I met Keenan years before i lived at Twin Oaks. He came to visit us at Paradox House in San Francisco.  He installed our shower curtain over our weird bathtub.  We called it “the Keenan” for years after he left.  Most people who called it that never met him.

And this is a bit his legacy all manner of unusual things which he created which other people use and enjoy, often without even knowing he is responsible.

Happy unbirthday my friend.  And many returns of the day.

Acorn Meeting Notes

I’ve been away from Acorn for about a week now, helping a brand new FEC community get started (more on this later).  But while I am away I read carefully the minutes of the Acorn meetings which take place.  This has less to do with wanting to be on top of the decision making of one of my favorite communes and more to do with the comic gems which appear inside.

Slightly less darling than the runt baby pig

Slightly less darling  than feeding the runt baby pig

This is from today’s meeting:

Piranhas for the pond!

Rejoice: Mike thinks we should get piranhas for the pond! Thoughts?

Ken: F*** yeah. None of this mellow Tilapia shit.

Consensus: Ken will bottle-feed baby piranhas from Craigslist and then release them into the pond when they reach maturity.

i miss Acorn

Utopia: It’s not happening

CNN did a curious piece partially about Twin Oaks recently. It was odd because it did a fairly good job of representing the commune in the text portion of the story, much better than ABC Nightline did, but it mixed in a video about the San Francisco Co-Living movement.

The article is called: Utopia: It’s Complicated – Inside Vintage and New Age Communities. We are clearly the vintage part.

Vintage looks dapper

Vintage looks dapper

Taking this apart a bit, let’s consider the clever title. Utopia is a slightly charged and especially foolish word to use when describing a real life living situation. We are not perfect, nor appropriate for everyone. We never claim to be, though academics and the media love to throw that label on us. What we do claim is that our living situation is far better than most and some (including myself) claim that on a good day, we can see utopia from here.

Don't be fooled by signs

Don’t be fooled by signs

But this is a detail, really. What is more peculiar is lumping contemporary “co-living” spaces with income sharing communities like Twin Oaks. It is something like grouping tug boats with hover crafts.

tugboats and hover crafts

Both on water, then the similarity stops

In both circumstances there are people living together and sharing things and selecting each other (this is my definition for intentional community.) But if the affluent residents of co-living circumstances are disagreeing about maid service, it is about how often it is necessary. Maid service is inconceivable to most income sharing communes, not just because we don’t think we can afford it, but because we feel responsible for cleaning up our own messes.

As GPaul points out in “We are not selling a product,” the differences only start here. Co-living replicates the landlord/tenant dynamic, FEC communities largely own their own properties which are land trusts. Think corporate hover craft and co-op tug boat. Sharing income means you need to listen to those you live with about what their needs are and the survival of the community depends on trust building. Sharing an expensive group house means you stay until you have a serious fight with someone living there, are bored, or find a better offer and you are constantly on the look out for that offer.

Not the good life without kids and elders

Not the good life without kids and elders

None of the co-living situations I have seen or read about have children. Mostly what we see is twenty-somethings appearing to live the good life. Nothing wrong with that, but for me the good life is multi-generational.

So there is no utopia.  And the differences between different approaches to the better life are significant.  I am glad CNN got so much right about us.  I am sad that they decided our neighbors in building a better world were mostly affluent people who are likely making gentrification worse.

Community Snapshot

Batman in gown on tractor

Batman in gown on tractor

Acorn's new "Study Hall" craze

Acorn’s new “Study Hall” craze – crica 2015

Mike with rounding up Sapling pig

Mike with rounding up Sapling pig

Fancy Formal Funny Clothes at Twin Oaks Commie Clothes

Fancy Formal Funny Clothes at Twin Oaks Commie Clothes

Members Wanted: The Real Reason to come to the Communities Conference

For more than 30 years Twin Oaks has been organizing a communities conference, which this year is over the Labor Day weekend. We have a great organizing team, there is an excellent program, great workshops, and the whole thing is reasonably priced. But the reason to go this year is the opportunities.

By my count there are over half a dozen communities coming to this year’s event which are seriously looking for new members. No long waiting lists, new possibilities right now. You could come to this year’s event and have your life changed forever to a future in community.

Quercus is Latin for Oak (following the theme of Twin Oaks => Acorn => Sapling.) It is also the name of a newly forming (move in October 1st) permaculture-based urban homestead near the center of Richmond, VA. Quercus is a community based in social justice activism and ecological conservation. It is also income sharing and aspires to be a full member of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. This house is designed to be a radical space for public presentations, workshops, and performances.  Four fantastic folks are already together and they are looking for a few more pioneers.

A Quercuser and friends dress up

A Quercuser and friends dress up – Photo Credit Moth Dust

Karass is small community and bed & breakfast in Chester, Vermont (1 1/4 hours north of Northampton MA) and is currently searching for 3(ish) pioneering members. It is a sprawling 10 bedroom, 9 bathroom house with 6 guest rooms (the inn) and 4 member rooms (the community), with an additional 3 large common areas and other interesting spaces both inside and out. They believe in hospitality, community, sustainability, resource sharing, and egalitarianism. Their membership application gives insight into their values and expectations.  Karass is running volunteer work weeks in late September, culminating in a party on September 26 to celebrate the progress they’ve made so far.  A number of Oakers and Acorners are going up to help out with the final renovations of this new project. If you are interested contact me at, or Angie (one of the pioneering members) at

The Fae: Founded by members of Acorn community, The Fae is a collective house on Staten Island in NYC with big aspirations, including developing plant based soil and environmental remediation techniques. As reported, “Roommate wanted: Must love activism, balloon art, and cats.” The Fae hopes to become an FEC community where communards from other places can stay and get involved and do art internships.

The Fae in full swing

The Fae in full swing

Groundswell Institute is a new community two hours north of San Francisco and founded by radical queer friends of ours, some of whom are ex-Oakers. Groundswell is interested in growing to about 15 people in the next year from the handful they have now. When I asked what type of people they were searching for, there was a short but comprehensive consultation amongst the members present. “Non-heteronormative” was the response.

The physical plant of Groundswell is impressive. It is an ecovillage on over 180 acres of land (with all human activity concentrated on 40 acres.) It is a former campsite which can sleep 80 people indoors in cabins. It has a full sized institutional kitchen, pond, amphitheater, dance hall, and some amazing trees.

I don’t actually know why they are an Institute and I am not 100% sure a representative will be at the Comm Conf to present them, but they are new and growing and important and a number of people at the conference have visited there and can talk about them.

Groundswell-header-image-v7Cambia Community is a new family-friendly, egalitarian community in Louisa County with a focus on permaculture and home school education. They have purchased 15 mostly wooded acres and a small house in rural Louisa, VA and are seeking to create a community of 10-30 people with a high level of sharing and connection. They’re looking for people with prior community experience and skills in farming and gardening in this climate and business planning, people who value and uphold some mindfulness practices, no drug or alcohol abuse or overuse, and possibly families. Unusually insightful into the culture of this forming community is the section on their blog which talks about what they are not.

Point A Washington DC has an income sharing group, space scouts who are looking intensely for suitable living locations (and clearly have big imaginations because they have found some amazing possibilities), and a growing cohesive culture. If you are looking for income sharing communes inside the big city, this might just be your best bet. This project is daring, ambitious and engaged – not for the faint of heart.

The Baltimore Free Farm is one of the most ambitious projects I have ever seen. It does food recovery in conjunction with Food Not Bombs and their own dumpster diving efforts. BFF also runs amazing events and concerts in their warehouse space.

These seedlings will be planted in the garden soon!

Living Energy Farm is a dark green ecovillage also in Louisa county and they are looking for members. Living Energy Farm is another ambitious and challenging project, of a different sort. Essentially their aim is to prepare for a post-petroleum world while it can still be done relatively comfortably. However they are using a prefigurative approach in which they model the practices which will be used in the resource-scarce future. This means lots of things by hands, living closer to the seasons and nightfall, and thinking about how to reduce one’s impact seriously.

LEF Barn Raising - Circa 2013

LEF Barn Raising – Circa 2013

So if you are looking for community, these are just the opportunities that i am aware of that are coming.  If you know more, please feel encouraged to add them in the comment section here.

[Proofread by Gryphon]

Wrong from word 2: the Media discovers the commune.

It all started with Yahoo Parenting.  A reporter came out with a photographer and talked with a handful of Twin Oaks parents.

Finley takes a fine photo. Photo Credit Yahoo News

Finley takes a fine photo. Photo Credit Yahoo News

Then ABC Nightline called up and asked if they could come and film. ABC and Yahoo News have a partnership agreement. Perhaps we should have said “no.”

There were a number of problems with the final ABC piece, including mistakes which started from the second word of the article. “Inside Off-the-Grid Virginia Commune Where Everything From Housing to Child Care Is Shared.” In fact, we are not off the grid. We have some solar panels, and we are getting some more, but we have a long way to go before we are off the grid.

This powers about 3% of the community. We are not off the grid.

This powers about 3% of the community. We are not off the grid.

The video which I reported on earlier depicted us as negligent for letting kids wander around the property unescorted and not doing background checks on members offering child care. There are lots of reasonable things to criticize the communes about, but there are not on the list. Background checks don’t actually catch much AND we live with these people for three weeks and interview them for hours. Much more rigorous than anyone hiring a babysitter from Craigslist. They bungled the description of our complex pension system (saying adults over 50 drop to a single hour of work per year.)

A number of members were angry at me for not restricting the motion of the press more and not being more sensitive to people the media should stay away from.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to internet. Lots of other media entities mimicked the story in some ways.  Specifically:

So what we see is news driven by trends. If a topic appears to be trending, one cheap way your news entity can get a piece of the action is by finding a hot story, searching the internet for other free content on the topic, piece them together with a thin narrative and bang! you have intern-generated popular “news” stories.

There are some beautiful commune pictures out there. From 40th Anniversary

There are some beautiful commune pictures out there. From 40th Anniversary

Now we have had a handful of additional offers from news entities who want to come film. For a while, i think we will say no.

For more insightful and important analysis of the community, please read:

[Proofread by Gryphon]

Acorn Kids Double in One Day

On Wednesday of this week the number of kid members at Acorn doubled from two to four.  Stephanie and Sean’s two kids, Elan and Adira, were joined by newborn, Tullulah, and Sappho.

Fox, Talula and Oden on the floor.

Fox, Tullulah and Odin on the floor.

Sappho in a dress she sewed for herself just before arriving

Sappho in a dress she sewed for herself just before arriving

It is a big deal to go from one family with two kids a couple years apart to three families with kids ranging from newborn to eight years old.  It shows an interesting stability in Acorn, which has long been a culture dominated by more transient young people.

To my optimistic eye it harks the beginning of a golden age, in which Acorn uses its considerable resources to make all manner of enviable things happen here.  I’m game.


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